The idea that FIFA was going to be able to pull off the World Cup in Qatar with the same sort of standard that we’re used to was a long-shot from the start, but now with just a few days before the world’s most exciting soccer tournament kicks off, things just went from bad to worse.
That’s because Qatar, whose record on freedom isn’t exactly stellar, just reneged on their original agreement with FIFA and will not allow alcohol to be sold inside of the stadiums being utilized for the event.
Qatar banned the sale of beer at World Cup stadiums on Friday, a sudden U-turn on the deal the conservative Muslim emirate made to secure the soccer tournament with only two days to go before the opening game.Advertisement - story continues below
The move was the latest sign of the tension of staging the event, which is not just a sports tournament but also a monthlong party, in the autocratic country where the sale of alcohol is heavily restricted. It’s also a significant blow to World Cup beer sponsor Budweiser and raised questions about how much control FIFA retains over its tournament.
The situation has been controversial for some time already.
When Qatar launched its bid to host the World Cup, the country agreed to FIFA’s requirements of selling alcohol in stadiums — but the details were only released in September, just 11 weeks before the first kickoff, suggesting how fraught the negotiations may have been. Friday’s statement from FIFA said non-alcoholic beer will still be sold at the eight stadiums, while champagne, wine, whiskey and other alcohol will be served in the luxury hospitality areas of the arenas.
But the vast majority of ticket holders don’t have access to those areas; they will be able to drink alcoholic beer in the evenings in what is known as the FIFA Fan Festival, a designated party area that also offers live music and activities. Outside of the tournament-run areas, Qatar puts strict limits on the purchase and consumption of alcohol, though its sale has been permitted in hotel bars for years.
The move will certainly complicate FIFA’s relationship with major sponsor AB InBev, the makers of Budweiser, who were banking on these sales in order to justify their investment in the contest.